E.J. Henderson accepted a move to backup middle linebacker this spring and now is expected to be the Vikings' starting weakside linebacker this fall. Adam Goldberg has accepted his role change equally well and could end up being a starter again sometime soon.
Such is life in the "Not For Long" league.
Things are constantly changing on NFL teams, especially in the preseason, and Goldberg didn't publicly pout when the Vikings made the decision to go with Chris Liwienski and Marcus Johnson as their starting guards. That meant Goldberg, who was expected to be the starting left guard, was moving into a backup role at guard and center. With acquisition of center Melvin Fowler via trade that sent tackle Nat Dorsey to Cleveland, Goldberg could now be a primary backup at every position along the offensive line.
As it turns out, Goldberg may be closer to starting at center or tackle than guard. When Matt Birk made the decision to have another hip surgery early next month, it forced the team to put him on injured reserve and end the Pro Bowler's season, moving Cory Withrow into a starting role and Goldberg into the backup spot.
Second-year lineman Anthony Herrera was just beginning to show some real progress at center in training camp before a staph infection in his leg put him in the hospital and on crutches.
"Herrera, it's just a shame. He had a real nice first (preseason) game, played so aggressively with a lot of passion and played pretty smart. Then to have him be in the hospital with that infection, it quite frankly hurt us," head coach Mike Tice said. "Goldberg has showed his versatility at center. In two days (before his first action) it looks like he has played there two years. We are real proud with what Adam has done. I know he's not pleased with the move, but it is something that we need as a football team to have. That's depth at the inside three positions. (We) probably didn't have to make that move if Herrera wasn't in the hospital."
As it turns out, Herrera still isn't back to 100 percent and Goldberg received plenty of plays at center in the last two preseason games.
He had never played center before. In fact, the first time he practiced the center position was three days before the San Diego game.
While he said he was "surprisingly comfortable" in that game, he has a newfound respect for the position.
"It's just getting used to the procedure of making the call first, then the snap, then the block," Goldberg said.
"(The Chargers were) difficult because San Diego runs that 3-4 defense so it's hard to see where the blitzers are coming from because there are so many linebackers out there. Directing the protections is more difficult, but we were able to do it well and execute it well."
Goldberg isn't new to being a swingman on the offensive line. He played guard, tackle and even some tight end last year. But this center thing is a new world to him.
"I think the procedure is the hardest part getting used to – getting down on the ball and thinking, Alright, where am I going to direct this play to. I've got to direct the rest of the offensive line, and then after that, Is the quarterback in the shotgun or his he underneath me. OK, then, alright, where is my guy that I'm going to block. Alright, there he is. What's the snap count again? Now get the snap up, now go block somebody. I have a newfound respect for our centers in our system. It's definitely a tough job. Now having played tight end, tackle, guard, it's definitely a difficult position."
Goldberg played tight end in the Vikings' "monster" package, where they planned to run the ball or bring in maximum protection. He did that against the Titans, Saints and Giants last year. But even in practice, he never got the opportunity to go out on a receiving route, and even while immersed in a sea of change he maintains his sense of humor.
"There's a phrase in our facility called, "Know your role." My role is not going out for passes," he said.
His role seems to be constantly changing, but through it all he has handled the changes with professionalism, and that probably won't change now that the Vikings traded for former Browns center Fowler. That might changed Goldberg's role again, because expecting a player to grasp the difficult center position in two weeks may have been asking too much.
Tice said Goldberg didn't snap the ball on the right count one time in his debut, and offensive line coach Steve Loney said Goldberg didn't grade out all that well either. But all that is to be expected when learning a position as complicated as center and playing against a good team with only three practices under his belt.
"Fortunately in the system we have two veteran centers that are good guys that will take you under their wing and answer questions," Goldberg said of Withrow and Birk, who made the trip to Seattle last week despite being on injured reserve. "And also we have the offensive coordinator in our offensive line room in Coach (Steve) Loney, so we get his perspective, and that can make things easier as well."
Goldberg may be five inches taller and 23 pounds heavier than current starter Withrow, but Withrow has five years of NFL experience at the position. Fowler will probably end up in the top two centers on the depth chart, meaning Goldberg would have more time to develop there, as well as being a primary backup at guard and tackle.
Nobody knows exactly how the whole center position will end up this season – it could be Withrow, Goldberg, Herrera or Fowler getting the starting role at any point – but whatever happens, don't look for Goldberg to be a disruptive influence. He has handled all of the changes with ultimate professionalism to this point.
Goldberg Displays Professionalism During Changes
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